Sunday 8 June 2014

How England Lost The Ashes

This is the story of how England lost the Ashes. Actually, it's more of a theory.

Prior to the 2013 Ashes series England was for a while regarded as the best team in the world. They did this through batting long. They had two of the all-time great batsmen (my opinion) in Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott up front, setting a solid platform, and three players down the list that could play match-winning innings – Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Joe Root. The sixth position in the line-up they had messed around with and hadn't really found a solution.

In the 12 months or so prior to the Ashes they had not been mounting up the big scores like they once had, but everyone assumed that was a minor glitch that would resolve itself.

The problem they thought they really had was that the platform that Cook and Trott and A N Other were building up front was taking too long, that it was a drudge, that it was robbing the innings of impetus. The English press and public, who seem to get bored when England are winning, started banging on about it. Most of the blame seemed to be levelled at poor old Trotty, and I for one hope that anybody who ever thought it was hilarious to tweet or comment #Trott's Fault now feel deeply ashamed of themselves.

They had tried out Nick Compton and dumped him and then they tried Joe Root up front. Both very slow. All three starters very, very slow. They still won the Ashes in 2013 of course, but not convincingly, and because Australia, both the team and the country, seems to have a hoodoo over England, they decided to do something about it.

They decided they needed a bit of a goer up front to bat with and between Cooky and Trotty. Someone who would have a dash, pick up the rate, put some pressure back on the bowlers and otherwise let the real superstars do their (very slow) thing. Someone who could have a dash because they weren't frightened of cocking it up and getting out.

So when taking this sort of radical new direction, who are you going to call on?

Well, it would make sense to pick a bloke with a reputation as a bit of a dasher, maybe someone who is already mature, possibly even verging on past it, someone who has nothing to lose and the maturity to know the job and get out there and do it. They picked Michael Carberry.

Cooky had an ordinary series, he didn't score much and he still scored slowly. Poor old Trott went home, a tragic loss to world cricket. Joe Root, who had been displaced from the opener's spot for being too slow, now found himself at 3 and scoring even slower – fair enough, though, he was doing what everyone knew was Trott's job.

Michael Carberry … shit himself. Terrified to lash out, not game to back his eye or hands, he was a statue, a slow old grinder mark IV, but nowhere near as good as the other three. He survived, but that's about all you can say.

Alright, you could probably say he survived enough that statistically he was one of England's better performers, but what he actually did was halt progress. The scoring seized up completely all around him, made the Aussie bowlers feel as if they were kings, and put far too much pressure on the rest of the batting order. Rather than fix the problem, he illustrated it.

The thing is though, he kept doing it, and he kept getting picked. Either he didn't understand his job, or he was incapable of doing it. And Andy Flower (and Cooky, and Goochy, and a bus load of back room staff you've never heard of) either failed to tell him what the job was, or Carberry failed to listen. In the end it probably doesn't matter which – the coach's job one way or another is to communicate with the player, tell them what is expected of him, and most important of all, give the guy the belief that he can go and deliver on that expectation.

Is it coincidence that when he got home Carberry complained publicly that no-one in the England set-up was telling him what was expected of him?

There is a debate now whether England losing the Ashes should be laid at the feet of the players or the coaching staff. Carberry is the illustration of the answer.

You see, Carberry is not good enough to play Test cricket, he just doesn't have the ability. But with the exception of a couple of randoms they pulled off the beach for the last Test, the rest of the squad are. The players are good enough. All the players had to do was believe in themselves.

They got smashed. They didn't believe in themselves. In fact, they seemed dazed and confused.

A coach has one job, really. Make the players believe in themselves, make them think they can win – scratch that, WILL win.

My theory is that the coaching staff lost the Ashes for England, and for evidence I present Michael Carberry.

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